Leaders of the Arkansas Legislative Council on Sunday approved an additional $40 million for the "Arkansas Ready for Business" grant program, a state-administered fund to help small businesses reopen as Arkansas rolls back COVID-19 restrictions.
The program's website is set to go live and take applications from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at his daily press briefing on Monday. Business can apply here.
"… I want to thank the Senate Pro Tem, as well as the speaker, as well as the Legislative Council, for their approval of this and their agreement on it, and willingness to work together to accomplish something that is very, very good and important for our small businesses across Arkansas," the governor said.
Hutchinson last week said that the program launched "prematurely" on Wednesday, and many would-be applicants were locked out of the fund when the amount of requests surpassed the program's original $15 million limit.
The program now contains $55 million. Under the new guidelines, at least 15% of the fund's recipients must be women- and minority-owned businesses as defined by Arkansas statute, and at least 75% of the total funds will go to businesses with 50 employees or less.
Businesses can receive $1,000 per employee and up to $100,000 total. They can use the money to buy supplies including personal protective equipment, no-contact thermometers, no-contact point-of-sale payment equipment, cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer stations.
On Monday, Commerce Secretary Mike Preston said businesses whose applications were submitted last week would not need to reapply this week.
On Friday, the state Department of Commerce submitted a new version of the program to the state's CARES Act Steering Committee, which determines how Arkansas will spend its $1.25 billion share of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act.
The department requested an additional $85 million from the CARES Act allocation, along with new guidelines about what businesses could receive it. The steering committee approved the request, though some legislators advocated for a smaller amount and the right to revisit the program's funding depending on demand.
Legislators debated the issue into the weekend, and on Sunday, co-chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council, who have ultimate oversight, approved $40 million, to bring the fund's total to $55 million. They said they would revisit the issue later in the week to see whether they should allocate more money.
"If the applications exceed that amount, then there will be a discussion as to whether that needs to be supplemented — that remains to be seen," the governor said Monday. "Hopefully this will be sufficient. It'd be wonderful to believe that this will be sufficient for our businesses but we'll just have to wait to see …"
The council's co-chairs are Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, Rep. Jeff Wardlaw, R-Hermitage, and Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, who raised objections to the program's launch last Wednesday.